GREENVILLE — A federal appeals court has upheld the firing of a Greenville police officer who alleged she was dismissed over comments posted on a social networking site.
Former Sgt. Susan Graziosi was fired in 2012 after posting criticism on Facebook about Police Chief Freddie Cannon’s decision not to send department representatives to the funeral for a Pearl police officer killed in the line of duty.
According to the lawsuit, the posting to the mayor’s Facebook page read: “Dear Mayor, can we please get a leader that understands that a department sends officers (to) the funeral of an officer killed in the line of duty?”
She posted further comments directed at Cannon, writing “we had somethings (sic) then that we no longer have … LEADERS. If (Cannon) suddenly decided ‘we couldn’t afford the gas’ (how absurd — I would be embarrassed as chief to make that statement) he should have let us know so we could have gone ourselves” and “if you don’t want to lead, can you just get the hell out of the way.”
She filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, then-Mayor Chuck Jordan and Cannon.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mills ruled in 2013 Graziosi’s venting on Facebook was not accorded First Amendment protection. Mills said Graziosi had a chain of command she could have used to raise her concerns about Cannon’s decision.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Friday upheld Mills’ ruling.
“We hold that Greenville’s substantial interests in maintaining discipline and close working relationships and preventing insubordination within the department outweigh Graziosi’s minimal interest in speaking on a matter of public concern,” the panel said.
The panel said Graziosi’s concession that her displeasure with Cannon’s decision prompted her to make the Facebook posts.
That “underscores our characterization of her statements as a rant,” the panel said. “Therefore, the speech at issue here is akin to an internal grievance, the content of which is not entitled to First Amendment protection.”
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